For the first time in April 2006, shortly after the visit of the then US President George Bush to India, Osama bin Laden projected the global jihad as being waged against a joint India-Israel-US plot against Islam. This theme was not repeated in his subsequent messages.
He has reverted to this theme in his latest audio message broadcast by Al Jazeera on June 3, 2009. The message focuses on the on-going operation of the Pakistan Army in the Swat Valley and the suffering caused by it to the people of the area, but it has been released by Al Qaeda to coincide with the arrival of President Barack Obama in Saudi Arabia from where he will be going to Egypt. Obama is expected to deliver a significant speech at the Cairo University , which is being billed in advance by US spokesmen as an important message of goodwill to the Islamic world.
Al Qaeda has released two messages coinciding with Obama's tour. The first by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's No.2, is totally focussed on Obama's visit. It is highly vituperative. Zawahiri, who is an Egyptian, denounces the leaders of Egypt as butchers and criminals. He uses language, which is virulently denunciatory.
The message of bin Laden is more balanced. He does not stoop to the level of his No.2. The main focus is not on Obama's tour, but on the on-going military operation in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province. He tries to project that Obama is no different from George Bush and that his policies towards the Muslims are full of hatred and are no different from those of Bush. He indirectly warns of the consequences of such policy. The warning is more general than specific. It cannot be interpreted as an indicator of a coming Al Qaeda strike against the US.
The message says:
"U.S. policy in Pakistan has generated new seeds of hatred and revenge against
America. Obama has ordered Zardari to prevent the people of Swat from implementing sharia
law..... All this led to the displacement of about a million Muslim elders, women and children from their villages and homes. They became refugees in tents after they were
honoured in their own homes. This basically means that Obama and his administration put new seeds of hatred and revenge against America. The number of these seeds is the same as the number of those victims and refugees in Swat and the tribal area in northern and southern
Waziristan. The American people need to prepare to only gain what those seeds bring up."
bin Laden has been very critical of President Asif Ali Zardari and Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). He accuses them of continuing to divert the army's main role from protecting the nation to fighting Islam and its followers and adds that the war is also hurting Pakistan's economy, endangering the country's religion and security and "fulfilling an American, Jewish and Indian plot." It further says: "Most of the Pakistani people reject this unjust war. Zardari did this in response to the ones paying him in the White House -- not 10 per cent but multiple folds of that."
In this context, bin Laden says: "It is easy for India to subject the disassembled territories of Pakistan, one after another, for its own benefit, like the case of eastern Pakistan before, or even worse. This way, America eases its worry towards Pakistan's nuclear weapons."
Zawahiri's message accuses Obama of threatening to interfere in Pakistan to secure its nuclear weapons, "meaning he considers these weapons owned by America and under its control." What is sought to be conveyed to the Pakistani people by these two messages is that as a result of the co-operation of its rulers with the US, Pakistan stands in danger of losing its sovereignty not only over its territory, but also over its nuclear arsenal.
Why does bin Laden consider it necessary to place before the Pakistani people the spectre of an Indian role in the alleged US-Israeli conspiracy against Pakistan? He does not explain, but after carefully reading the message, one can see that he is hinting to the Pakistanis the danger of shifting Pakistani troops away from the Indian border, as suggested by the Obama Administration, in order to use them in the operations against the Pakistani Taliban.
Pro-Al Qaeda organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) are likely to interpret bin Laden's message as encouragement of another major terrorist strike in India, in the hope that the resulting fresh tension between India and Pakistan would make the Pakistan Army slow down its anti-Taliban operation.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and,presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.